The Leader’s Decision

Chapter 2

As you recall from yesterday’s report, we were traveling in Rob’s van and enjoying all the comforts it had to offer–RIGHT.  We finally made it to our base camp and were preparing to climb.

Gannett Mountain is 13,809 feet high and is located in the state of Wyoming in the Wind River Range.  It was first summited in 1922.  While it is about 500 feet lower than Mt. Rainier it is glacieral and thus calls for additional climbing gear in order to reach the summit.  Ice axes, crampons and rope are necessities.

Walking up to Gannett base camp and later summitting and returning to the camp, I managed to render my left foot inoperable.  A heel blister had formed about the size of a half dollar.  Worse still I had allowed the punishment of that injured heal to go on so long that the bone was severely bruised to the point that a boot could not even be placed on my foot.

When we got to the Tetons, I had to pass on the initial day’s climb because of the damage inflected on the heel.  Rob and Jim agreed to hold off climbing the GRAND TETON (13,776 FEET) until Friday in hopes that the bone would heal sufficiently.  Unfortunately, Thursday night after heavy bandaging was applied to the heel, it was still very sensitive to a boot.

Rob was very concerned and when we walked outside at about 10:30 pm to test the wound, he confronted me with the question of what to do tomorrow.  We were scheduled to meet Barb at 4am at the Trailhead to the GRAND.  Rob needed to make a decision tonight as to my condition and the objective the team would go for the next day.  This is always a pre-climb requesite for the team and the team leader must decide.  The conversation went something like this:

“Dad, I know you want to make that summit badly tomorrow.  But I’m concerned about the condition of your foot.  It’s had me worried all day and we need to talk about it.”

“Okay Rob, lets talk.”

“Dad, I know how badly you want to do this.  I’m concerned about what you might do to your foot.  It may cause more damage and it may not be worth it to continue.  The mountain will always be there but your foot maybe severly damaged if you’re not careful.  I’m also concerned about the safety of the rest of the team.  It’s my responsibility to get us up and down as safely as possible.  If you fall behind, you may jeopardize all of us. If you can’t keep up you may be in jeopardy.”

We both stood there for a few minutes saying nothing.  The moon was out in full and we both stood looking not at each other but up at the GRAND that seemed like it was less than a mile away.

Finally Rob said “I know how badly you want to do this but I think you should decide now not to go to the summit.  You should go up with us but no further than the Lower Saddle at 11,300 feet.  From there you can get back down the trail safely by yourself.”

We were both still looking at the GRAND—not at each other.  When I did look over at Rob he was wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.  This was a tough request but he was the team leader and he had to consider the good of the team.  The conversation was more emotional than I can really describe.  But I finally told him that I would agree to go no further than the Lower Saddle or as far as I could get below the Lower Saddle.

Rob had great leadership skills and he doesn’t even realize it.   He had lead every climb with skill and decisiveness.  The rest of the team always relied on his judgement in any situation.  He knows when there is time to make tough decisions even when it’s your father that is involved.  For me it was a sad moment because I had waited several days of inactivity to have a shot at the GRAND.  But I was also proud of the way Rob handled it.  I’m sure if he were asked to give his version he’d say truthfully it was “no big thing”.

But standing there in the full moon with the GRAND at our feet and watching him wipe those tears away, I know it was a struggle for him.  I kept to my promise and stopped at the Lower Saddle.  To make up for it though I moved quickly up the trail.  Normally, the guided group reached the Lower Saddle in 6 hours.  Rob reached the Lower Saddle in 3 hours and I was not far behind at 3 hours and 40 minutes–bad foot and all.  In the end I felt good about this.  I also felt it was the right decision to not go further.  Once at the Lower Saddle, I still had at least a 3 hour hike back to the trailhead.  To go another 6-7 hours to the summit would have been torture on my foot.

The mountain will be there next time and I’ll summit then.  This time it was right to listen to the team leader, my son.  By the way, Rob, Jim and Barb made the summit at 2pm July 22, 1994.  Their third summit of a major mountain in the U.S. in less than a week.  The three were Gannett, Teewinot and the GRAND.

LIFE IS GOOD!

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2 Responses to The Leader’s Decision

  1. Susan Bush says:

    Wonderful story – loved it all

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